Angelo Songco Produces Sweet Harmony for St. Paul Saints
Baseball fans are quite familiar with the term “five-tool player.” A guy who has speed, can field well, hit for average and power, and has a good arm. In Minnesota they have a different kind of player. Let’s call him a six-dimension guy. A player whose game goes far beyond batting average and fielding percentage. A guy who gets that his “job” is intended to be fun as well as it is hard work. That guy is St. Paul Saints first baseman Angelo Songco.
Angelo’s passion for the game began as a little kid, when his father introduced him to baseball. “We used to go out in the yard and play catch, and he taught me everything about the game and, really, my dad just kept influencing me to play the game.”
His father had planted a seed in young Angelo’s heart, but he wanted his son to learn the most important lesson about the sport. “He is the one who introduced me to the game, and has been there all the way up to now. He really helped me to see what a fun game this is to play, and it still is a lot of fun to play. That is one lesson he really wanted me to get out of it.”
It may have been a very fun game to play, but being exceptionally good at it added to Songco’s enjoyment. He was a star in high school and went to Loyola Marymount where it didn’t take long for Major League teams to notice the outstanding outfielder. “In the summer of my sophomore year, I started to see all these scouts coming around wanting to talk to me. It was unbelievable. That was the first time I thought that I really had a shot of playing professional baseball.”
The dream continued to reach near epic proportions when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fourth round of the 2009 amateur draft. Growing up in Van Nuys, a mere twenty minutes from Dodger Stadium, getting drafted by his hometown team was beyond words.
For three seasons, Songco was making his way up the Dodgers system. The organization had decided they wanted him to move to first base and, in 2011, the Dodgers roving infield coordinator came to town to work with Songco. During the training Angelo missed one of the grounders, which hit off of his shin. It hurt, but was more of an irritant than a serious issue. For several months he battled through the pain but, during the off-season, his wife, Charnae, recommended that her husband go and have it looked at.
“My wife told me I should go and check it out, and all of a sudden the doctor is telling me it is a stress fracture in my tibia. It was a shock to me. It was kind of a freak thing how it happened, but I was glad I went because the doctor told me it could have broken at any point.”
A rod was surgically implanted to stabilize the bone, but that meant a long rehab was about to begin. Some orthopedic surgeons suggest as much as a year before getting back out onto the field, but the left-handed hitter was having none of that. This is Angelo Songco after all.
The native Californian worked extra hard and was back on the diamond with a few months left in the season. He split time that year between two different A-level clubs, combining to hit barely above .200, but his will proved that no injury was going to hold him down. He clubbed 12 home runs in 80 games, showing the left-handed hitter that his power was still there.
“It was a lot of hard work, and I did not do as well as I would have hoped, but rehab isn’t easy. I wanted the Dodgers to see I was committed to doing what needed to be done to help the organization. I think I showed them I could play again.”
The next season he caught fire at High-A Rancho Cucamonga, hitting .310, but struggled when he was promoted to AA-Chattanooga, hitting just .214 in 74 games. The leg was stable, but Songco was not getting the kind of drive he wanted.
The following season he returned to Chattanooga, but was not given much of a chance. After three games he was released. All that hard work and sweat he had put in seemed to be coming to an end, but Angelo was not done with his career. He had way too much perseverance and drive for that.
Soon after being released, St. Paul Saints skipper George Tsamis came calling on the first baseman. He offered Songco the opportunity to come and play in St. Paul, and after doing some research, Angelo agreed to become a Saint.
This is one of those rare aspects of the Californian that makes him so unique. Songco wanted to continue his career and have quality coaches where he could learn and grow, but he also wanted to be in an organization where he would be proud to wear their uniform. This sent him on a quest to find out about the St. Paul Saints.
“I looked into the Saints and their history. Saw what they were about and knew this is where I wanted to play. This is the New York Yankees of independent baseball.”
While donning the team uniform was an important consideration, Songco also wanted to improve his game. Being better at what he does is a constant source of motivation, and he is always open to adding new skills and improving his existing ones.
“I would like to improve in all parts of my game. With every player, every part of their game can be improved. When I coach in the off-season I teach my players that there is room for improvement every single day. I practice what I preach, and I take that to heart where I can improve every part of my game, every day, so I can be better.”
One of the primary ways that he does this is by sitting with St. Paul Saints hitting coach Ole Sheldon before each game to learn the approach he should take in facing certain pitchers and certain teams.
“I talk to Ole about 45 minutes before each game to see what kind of approach we are going to take for that game, because he has been around for a few years and really knows how they are going to pitch in this league. So I kind of run with him on the approach we are going to take during the game.”
Knowledge has become a primary focus of Songco’s life, and it is approach to obtaining that knowledge that makes him so special. He sees the benefits in doing little things that some would neglect to even consider.
“I recognize that I need to watch the game from inning one to inning nine or however long it goes. That is how you really learn about the game regarding situations, what you should do in certain situations, this is what the pitcher is going to throw in a certain situation. I feel that this is the way I am going to grow as a player.”
The first baseman has also educated himself on the merits of keeping his cool. “I know I kind of need to keep my mouth shut, not really saying much to umpires, like I used to. I need to stay in the game to help the team win. I know early on in my career I built up a reputation for arguing too much with umpires, and I agree that was true. I remind myself that umpires will make mistakes, and I need to accept that at times, because we make mistakes too.”
Talking is a recognized trademark of Angelo Songco. He was known throughout his time in college, his minor league career, and his time here with the Saints as a guy who enjoys a good conversation.
“I like to talk about anything on the field. What did you have for lunch, what did you do today. It’s how I get myself involved in the game. I like to talk to umpires, and see their input on things. It is definitely a part of my game where I think I excel.”
On a team whose character is more akin to a boardroom than a baseball diamond, Songco is the rare exception. The young man with the million dollar smile and Hollywood looks is passionate about his game, and is not afraid to show emotion. When he knocks in a run his trademark has become to clap his hands as he rounds first base, and when he hits a home run, the double clap is displayed. It’s clearly the St. Paul Saints’ player’s exuberant way of saying “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!!”
This season there has been a whole lot of hand-clapping going on. Songco is tied for the American Association lead in RBI with teammate Ian Gac. He has knocked in 18 in 16 games so far and is boasting a gaudy .356 batting average. Clearly the leg is healthy, and the knowledge he has accumulated is showing in the way he is hitting.
“I take hitting to heart, because that is where I really think I can excel in, but I want to improve in every area each and every day.” Clearly opposing pitchers wish he would spent a little less time taking it to heart.
On their own, these characteristics would make Songco one heck of a ballplayer, but one would be remiss without mentioning his outstanding character. This is a guy who donates his off-season time to helping kids learn the game he loves. He teaches them the very message he applies in his own game, and gives them the same lessons his father taught him.
With so many changes to the St. Paul Saints roster this season, Songco has stepped up to take on more of a leadership role. “We are looking for leaders here, and I want to be one of those leaders. I want to win a championship here in our first year in this stadium, so I want to be the kind of leader who helps take this team to that level.”
The part of his character that is most impressive is his commitment to the ones that helped get him where he is today, most notably his family. “My parents have been behind me my entire career, from when I first started to now. They are amazing.”
And for his beautiful wife Charnae, he has his biggest accolades. “She has pretty much been my rock guiding me through the good and the bad. I know I can turn to her when things are not going the right way, and she can really get me cheered up and able to see that positive things will come. I can’t imagine where I would be without her.”
That amazing character was most on display last season when Songco had his greatest moment of his baseball career. It was not a big home run or an amazing catch that he remembers so fondly. Instead, it was the day his toddler got to throw out the opening pitch of a game on his son’s birthday. The moment was one that has touched him ever since.
“It was such an amazing day. My son got to throw out the first pitch and got to hang out with me the whole day for his birthday. I don’t know if he will remember it when he grows up but I will.”
It takes a special kind of player to be a St. Paul Saint. That is very true. Angelo Songco had done his homework and was correct in his assessment. This is one of the finest independent league baseball teams that one will find, and Songco is the perfect kind of player for the St. Paul Saints.
It takes a special kind of guy who is able to blend all those attributes into one harmonious mixture, and that is what makes Angelo Songco so special. His spirit, love of the game, his team and family, and his incredible drive and skill make the St. Paul Saints first baseman the kind of player that any organization would love to have. The Dodgers were foolish enough to let him get away; don’t be surprised if some other Major League club reaps the benefits of the Los Angeles’ team’s mistake.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA